How Do You Know When It's Time To See A Vascular Surgeon?

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Your body has 60,000 miles of blood vessels and one crucial job: to carry blood throughout your body.

So when do you need an expert’s insight into caring for your veins and arteries? Henry Ford Health System vascular surgeon Timothy Nypaver, M.D., offers answers about vascular disease and when to see a vascular specialist.

The Inside Story On Vascular Surgery

Q: What is a vascular surgeon?

A: A vascular surgeon is an expert in diseases of the circulatory system. This vascular doctor specializes in caring for artery and vein disease throughout the body, except for the heart.

Q: What is the circulatory system?

A: The circulatory system, also known as the vascular system, is made up of arteries and veins. Because it’s a system, vascular problems are systemic. For example, if you have narrowing arteries in one place, you could very well have them in another.

Q: What brings people to a vascular surgeon?

A: Most people are referred to a vascular surgeon from their doctor. They may have sought care because a pulse was not detectable in an arm or leg during an appointment or because they have symptoms of vascular disease.

Q: When should you see a vascular surgeon?

A: There are signs and symptoms of vascular disease that warrant a trip to your provider for a referral. These include:

  • Darkening of skin on the legs
  • History of stroke or mini-stroke
  • Pain in the legs while walking
  • Painful or bulging veins
  • Swelling in the extremities (arms, hands, legs, feet)
  • Wounds on the extremities that don’t heal

It’s tempting to chalk these symptoms up to age or arthritis. However, they can be signs of a serious condition.

I also caution people to seek immediate medical attention if they experience:

  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Numbness in the arm, face or leg
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking

These symptoms can be signs of a stroke or mini-stroke. A mini-stroke can last just a few moments but requires immediate care.

Q: Who is at risk for vascular disease?

A: The risks for vascular disease are similar to that of heart disease. This includes tobacco use, family history, a sedentary lifestyle and high blood pressure and cholesterol. Age and medical conditions like kidney disease and diabetes are also key factors.

Q: Does seeing a vascular surgeon mean you’ll need vascular surgery?

A: Just because they’re called surgeons doesn’t mean surgery is always on the (operating) table. There are many conditions we can manage without surgery. Treatment can include medicine, compression stockings, lifestyle modifications and education.

When surgery is the best course of action, options abound. People worry about a major operation. The fact is, there are many interventions. These include traditional operations and minimally invasive procedures like endovascular angioplasty, stenting and laser ablation for veins. Even an abdominal aortic aneurysm can be treated with a minimally invasive procedure.

There are many benefits of minimally invasive vascular procedures, including:

  • Faster healing time
  • Less pain
  • Reduced risk of complications
  • Less scarring

Q: What lifestyle modifications can help vascular disease?

A: We recommend eating healthier, adding exercise, taking medication as directed, and making sure diabetes and blood pressure are well controlled. Quitting smoking is also extremely important.

If we catch vascular disease early, we have a better chance of managing it appropriately. Monitoring allows us to make medical and lifestyle adjustments while ensuring that the disease is not progressing.

Q: How do you find the right vascular surgeon?

A: Getting the right help can be limb- and life-saving. When you need a vascular surgeon, seek out someone who’s going to care for you as a whole person. Do your research and choose someone who has devoted their entire lives to the care of the person instead of just care of the vascular system.

I also would recommend a vein center with physicians of varying backgrounds and approaches. You want the full range of options, including medical management, endovascular management, open operations, risk modifications and more.

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To find a vascular specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Timothy Nypaver is a vascular surgeon who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford Medical Center in Fairlane.

Categories: FeelWell